Sunday, 19 July 2015

My Top 10 bivis


We all love it, we all need it. A fundamental part of any holiday or trip away is based around where we'll be counting sheep, the rest just falls into place. At the end of the day, all we can think about is getting into a nice comfy bed and closing the day. Some of us can function on very little, which bodes well if you're a climber. For any normal person, a bed, four walls and a roof is the accepted minimum, or standard should I say, if you count going camping as an acceptable holiday, in this case, at least some form of electrical hook up and functioning toilets and showers. But for us 'dirt bag' climbers, who don't deem a bed as 'necessary' and want everything free (even the beer), we'll get our heads down literally anywhere. So here are my top 10 bivis. They aren't ranked from worst to best, more the story behind them and their location. After all, why pay for something which I already have at home?

#10: Sleeping in the car. Location: Everywhere
Pretty much every time I head away and climb, we drive up the night before. This usually means rocking up somewhere in the middle of nowhere at stupid o'clock, and if it's winter, the weather is usually crap. So it's late, cold and wet/snowing. I can't be bothered to set up a tent or get in a bivi bag, so seats laid back, sleeping bag out and time to catch some Z's. A few moments spring to mind; one time, I pulled up at the bus stop near the Ogwen cottage at 3am, slept in the car and woke the next morning, looked out the window to find people sat at the bus stop with some puzzled looks aimed my way. Another time was in Wastwater. I pulled up at a similar time and awoke to find walkers had parked up next to me, again, with puzzled looks. Car sleeping isn't always the most comfortable. I've slept in both passenger seat and driver seat, passenger definitely being the most comfortable out the 2 (no pedals to get in the way). Across both front seats (definitley the least comfortable). On the back seat and in the boot. The latter being the most comfortable once the rear seats are folded down. In my Peaugot 306, there's almost enough room to lay flat. Almost. 

#9: Tent. Location: Stob Coire Nan Lochan, Glen Coe, Winter.
Stob Coire Nan Lochan.
Photo by Chris Ridgers
This is probably one of the better nights sleep that I've had in the mountains. But as you can see from the above picture, it was far from glamorous and a million miles away from that idealistic image of a camp site in Devon during the summer. More, Denali on a nice day. We walked up to SCNL the night before, but not after bumping into Mountain rescue who had just taken a climber away in the big yellow bird after being caught in an avalanche in Boomerang gully. We probably should have turned around, but having driven from Somerset, we were too keen and fancied our chances; Just keep to buttress routes. It took us what felt like forever walking in in the dark. Night navigation in winter is a tricky business. We got to the coire late at night and found a flatish area away from any loaded slopes. It was snowing heavily, the wind was strong, and we were both tired and hungry. We set about clearing snow for a platform and to dig ourselves in a bit to offer a bit of protection and started to build some snow walls for more protection from the wind. After over an hour, we gave in to the lull of our sleeping bags, abandoned our snow walls and fell into the tent, exhausted and cold. When I woke the next morning, I found Chris hadn't made it past getting his sleeping bag out of his pack. That was a cold and wild night!

#8: Bivi. Location: Cromlech boulders, Llanberis Pass, Summer.
It's bivis like this one that remind me that it can be comfortable and relaxing to sleep out under the stars in the mountains. We pulled up next to the boulders just after midnight on a September night and proceeded to set up our beds. It was clear, but cold. Chris and Pablo had decided to set up their tents, but I just found a flat location next to 2 rocks; one as a head rest and one as a bedside table. Perfect :) Once I was settled in the warmth of my sleeping bag, I just laid there and looked up at the night sky, the mountains silhouette against the stars. It was still and peaceful, with just the sound of a stream nearby. The next morning, it was a case of rolling over, firing up the Jetboil and sitting up against my rock, drinking coffee, waiting for the sunrise and the rest of the country to spring into life. My perfect idea of peaceful.

#7: Bivi. Location: Layby on the approach to the Black Ladders, North Wales. Winter.
It was Easter weekend, 2013. 10ft of snow had blanketed North Wales the weekend before and we took advantage of the late season conditions. Again, it was another long and tiring drive north, yet again, arriving somewhere, in the middle of the night. It was a clear, stary night, and frigid! There was a lot of snow on the ground but luckily the roads were 'sort of' clear. We parked in a layby near the end of the road before a footpath continues in to the Black Ladders. I cleared some snow beside the car to form a sort of  'ditch'  to lie in and piled snow up to form a pillow. Jetboil beside me ready for the morning, Bivi and sleeping bag out and I was set for the night. The morning was bitter, and I was that comfortable and warm, I didn't want to get up!

#6: Bivi. Location: Pen Y Pass car park. Winter.
Sunrise in Pen y Pass
A tarmac mattress for the night and Chris still looks happy
You probably get the idea here; late night arrival etc etc. The things we do to get our fix in the mountains. When I tell people what I did on a weekend, they just look at me like I need help. "You slept where?" "You know it's winter, right?" "So no mattress, pillows, shower, walls, a roof?". But to me, it's about maximizing time in the mountains and getting as much done in a small amount of time. Yes it's nice to relax at home at weekends, or stay in a hotel. But to me, this is relaxing, and it's fun. This wasn't actually that bad a bivi. No snow to clear and quite flat. I did have the issue in the morning where I had left my water out and it had frozen, so no coffee :(

#5: Bivi. Location: Outside a public toilet, Swirls car park, Thirlmere, Lake District. Winter.
I'm not proud of this one. But it was the best of a bad bunch. Me and Tim had arrived in Swirls car park ready to walk in to Brown Cove Crags in the morning. It was raining and neither of us fancied sleeping in the car. We saw the public toilets had a small verander with a bench and a notice board under it and it looked dry, so settled on that as shelter for the night. It wasn't that pleasant, but with your head in the sleeping bag, you couldn't smell the toilets. And I didn't really want to think about what I could have been lying on. Needless to say, we woke pretty early the next morning, packed up and walked in.

#4: Bivi. Location: Ogwen car park, N.Wales. Winter.
Now this one goes down as one of the worst, if not THE worst bivi night I've ever experienced. Yes, people have had far worse than this in the Himalaya and alps, but this one sticks in my mind for worst night sleep for me. Me and Chris were trying to make the most out of the fickle conditions of this winter and jumped at the chance of 'good' conditions in North Wales. A storm was forecast for the weekend with 80mph winds and a windchill in the -20's. But we still made the drive up. I bivied outside of the car but had realised that I had forgotten my sleeping mat. The car park was soaking, so I emptied my rucksack and laid that down to try and insulate myself from the cold, wet tarmac. I couldn't get comfortable, and to make matters worse it started to rain. Heavily. I tried to tuck myself in under the car to shelter myself, but to minimal avail. Then it started to sleet and that turned to snow. I was cold, lying on a solid, wet surface. The hood of my sleeping bag getting wet as the drawstring on my bivi bag had broken. I couldn't get warm, or comfortable and couldn't wait for the morning so I could get up!

#3: Bivi. Location: Plan de L'Aiguille, Chamonix, France.
Chilling after a failed climb
Photo by Chris Ridgers

Cold morning
Photo by Chris Ridgers
Settling in for the night
Photo by Chris Ridgers
 This is probably the most luxurious bivi site I've come across. We caught the last lift up to the Plan de L'Aiguille where we were going to spend the night and climb the next morning. Being cheap brits, we opted to not stay in the Hut. We had no idea this boulder existed until someone told us about it. We went in search, and there it was; a large space under a boulder with stone floor and walls. It was perfect! Positioned not far below the station, it offered protection from the weather and had a water source near by. And the view of the North face of the Midi was spectacular to wake up to the next morning, silhouetting against the clear dawn sky. I could have stayed here for some time if I had enough supplies. It was comfortable, spacious and in a stunning location. Seek it out for yourself next time you're there.

#2: Bivi (kinda). Location: Camp site, Chamonix, France.

After our night of luxury in the above Bivi, we were hard pushed to beat it. Even in a campsite with showers, flushing toilets and a 10min walk to the nearest supermarket. Oh and electricity too. Yet somehow, we managed to create a near epic and make even a campsite uncomfortable. Just look at the picture! It still makes me laugh now looking back at it. We came down off the Midi and walked into this campsite. We checked in with the owner and he showed us to our spot. He came back round an hour or so later to discover this. Our creative construction to shade us from the afternoon sun. "Umm bonjour monsieurs, urrr non tent?" He looked at us, suprised. Perhaps he has never seen this before, I deem it common practice. But ohh how he was in for a shock the next night. On the first night, however, we had a rather large thunder storm and it pissed it down, hard! I woke to the feeling of drops on my face and resorted to crawling under a bush for some added protection. But when the storm intensified, no amount of foliage was going to keep me from staying dry. Instead, I picked up my bivi bag/sleeping bag combo and headed for the undercover seating area, next to the laundry room and toilets, and took reuge under a bench. I woke the next morning to find Chris had joined me. And so, this was to be our accommodation the next evening...

I had the down stairs bedroom...

...Chris took the master suite...
As you can see, we took over the benched area that evening and Chris had fashioned himself a hammock out of his bivi bag, some rocks (I think) and climbing gear. It was surprisingly comfortable, although I did have to drape my bivi bag over the bench to shield me from the rain that was splashing in that night. And I had sunburn. And I was in a down bag rated to -10 (limit) in Chamonix valley in June. So in fact, it was one of the worst nights sleep I had, coupled with the thunder and sound of rain too. But a nice location :) and certainly an experience.

And now for number 1. This is the best one, even though I haven't rated them in any order per say, but this one will always be my best bivi, with the best story. And I wasn't even aware of the situation that unfolded until the morning...

#1: Bivi. Location: Layby at the end of the runway at Inverness Airport, Scotland. Winter.
This is told from Chris's story as I slept through it all.

Chris was dropping me off at Inverness airport so I could fly home after a week of climbing in Scotland. He was staying as he had a new job up there. We arrived the night before my flight and parked up in layby, not far from the end of the runway. We both started off sleeping in the car but Chris was too uncomfortable and so got his bivi bag out and slept outside, beside the car. He was awoken late at night by a bright light shining onto his face and a deep Scottish accent. He was confused, after all, he had just been woken. But the Scottish men, 2 police men, seemed relieved. They explained to him that a lorry driver had driven passed and had seen a 'body bag' laying besides a car. He had reported it to airport security who then informed the police, who then came to investigate. Instead of a dead body (which by the way would have made me the murderer, and a bad one at that), they discovered a very tired English man. The police did their checks, took his details and questioned him about his chainsaws and ice axes etc in his boot. And asked about myself, dead to the world in the passenger seat and our reason to be where we were. After this commotion, the police went on their way and Chris got back in the car. Only in the morning was I made aware of the events during the night.

So that's that. My top 10 bivis. There are many more and hopefully many more to come in the future. More exciting ones anyway, and ones in better locations with a story of how I got there.

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